Sculptor, painter, and mentor to many younger artists, Bert Flugelman came to Australia as a refugee shortly before the outbreak of World War II. In the 1970s he oversaw the radical artists associated with the Tin Sheds Gallery.
Bert Flugelman was born in Vienna, where as a child he haunted museums and art galleries near his grandmother’s home. Once he sheltered from a rainstorm in the gallery for Secessionist art, and became entranced by Schiele, Kokoschka, and Klimt. His life changed in 1938 when the Anschluss led to Hitler’s Germany annexing Austria, and he fled. Flugelman was a 15 year old refugee, with no English when he came to Australia, so took labouring jobs in the bush. Later he enlisted as a non-combattant in the Australian army. At the end of the war he considered his future, and thought again of art. Supported by the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme he studied painting at East Sydney Technical College under Frank Hinder. At the end of his course Flugelman and his wife Rosemary travelled to Europe for adventure and exposure to art. He was struck down by poliomyelitis and fled to London for medical care at the Fever Hospital. He later credited that experience with making him take painting seriously. A fellow Australian, Cedric Flower, heard of his illness and approached the Royal Academy on his behalf. The three year grant he received from their Benevolent Fund enabled him to both survive financially and to establish his career as an artist. Years later, in Australia, Flugelman started a similar fund for Australian artists. After he recovered they traveled to New York, where he discovered a love of making sculpture. He continued so paint for some years, but it is as a sculptor that he has made his greatest impact. Shortly after returning to Australia in 1956 he began teaching part-time at East Sydney Technical College. In 1968 Donald Brook successfully argued that the University of Sydney’s new Department of Fine Arts should work with the Faculty of Architecture to create an experimental art workshop at the old tin sheds on City Road. Flugelman became the first tutor at the Tin Sheds,where he stayed for over five years. His experimental approach combined with a rigorous work ethic influenced the next generation of Australian artists, including the young Imants Tillers. Later he moved to Adelaide, and became involved in the fledgling Experimental Art Foundation and ran the Sculpture Department at the South Australian School of Art. In 1984 he moved to Wollongong University, to head the Sculpture Department at the Art School. He retired from formal teaching in 1990 but continues to mentor young artists and encourage a questioning generosity of spirit.